September 30, 2010

Great Wall at Mutianyu, Beijing…all travellers must stand on this masterpiece before they die!

Filed under: China, Sight seeing, Tour, Travel — Tags: , , — PEr @ 2:23 pm

The Great Wall has long been on my want-to-visit list and it doesn’t disappoint. The Great Wall at Mutiayu is about a 2 hours drive out of central Beijing and it’s not very crowded. It’s sure not flat, and is quite steep in some sections, but is definitely worth seeing the wall in it’s pristine un-touched state. When it seems flat, it is still slanted to the side to let water run off! The stones and bricks are chipped and cracked and worn. Some wobble. The Mutianyu section, built by the rulers of the Ming Dynasty, is the highest and steepest part of the Great Wall. Some steps are 4 inches high, some are 9.

I enjoyed the watchtowers and the arid beauty, the wonderful view of the wall meandering along the mountains, and took time to think of the poor wretches who gave their lives building the wall. I gaze toward the horizon. My mind conjures up the dangers that Ming soldiers once faced. On one side of me is China. On the other side—the land of the barbarians (the Tatars, Mongols and Manchus). To think: at the height of its importance during the Ming dynasty, the Great Wall is believed to have extended some 4,000 miles, the distance from New York to Milan.

I took a cableway (more like a chair lift) up to the starting point. You can climb if you prefer. Also you can either climb down the hill when finished. I, however, opted for the tacky Toboggan slide (aka Non-irrigated farmland sled)

Overall, an amazing experience, one I will never forget! It is one of the most impressive sights anywhere on PLANET EARTH !!!!!!! All travellers must stand on this masterpiece before they die! This is the true truth and I say it as it is…

September 29, 2010

Quan Ju De Roast Duck Restaurant, Beijing…they slaughter you if you are an unaware foreigner

Quan Jude Roast Duck is the oldest (but it does not necessarily mean the best) Peking Duck restaurant and has many branches .  The location we ate at is 309 Huizhong Beili, Chaoyang. The ambience and decor is quite traditional Chinese.

The essence of the Peking duck is all in the crispy delightful skin. Here at Quan Ju De, the skin was not as crispy and nowhere as good as Da Dong nor Made in China. The meat is also not as juicy nor flavourful. Prices here are absurb (either that or we got slaughtered as we paid close to RMB500 for one duck). By any means this is an astronomically expensive duck. I later found out that locals get the meal at a cheaper price. BUT if foreigners anywhere from RMB200+  to RMB500!!! Depending on the colour of your skin or how aware you are (or otherwise), you will be taken for a ride in this place, price-wise)

The non duck dishes were not good too.

Normally Peking Duck in Beijing is one of the greatest foods on earth, but Quan Ju De’s version with the unceremonious pricing isn’t. This is still the true truth because I am still saying it as it is…

Heng Gi, Singapore…like eating a dehydrated bird from the Sahara

This goose and duck rice stall at 01-335 Tekka Centre, 665 Buffalo Road was featured in the CEOs’ choice book 2010. How wrong could a bunch of CEO get? Brilliant at corporate strategies and decisions, this distinguished group of intellect got it horribly wrong at picking Heng Gi.

The duck and goose were braised (not roasted as the signboard says) The meat was tough and dry. The sauce was bland. The chilli sauce was sourish. The price was expensive (perhaps only catering for CEOs?) Value for money was NIL.

Avoid this place like the plague. This is the true truth and I say it as it is…

September 28, 2010

Summer Palace (Yiheyuan), Beijing…a yawn compared to Great Wall or Forbidden City

Filed under: China, Sight seeing, Tour, Travel — Tags: , , , , — PEr @ 9:27 pm

Located at the outskirts of Beijing, the Summer Palace is one of the Emperor’s summer retreats.  The Empress Dowager Ci’xi started to spend every summer here hence the name, the Summer Palace.

The marketplace lends a folksy flavor to the imperial garden. I do wish that I had some sort of guiding here because I walked around more or less clueless. Though it gives the visitor a breathtaking insight into life at that time, the palace is not as stunning as the Forbidden City nor the Great Wall.

That is still the true truth because I am still saying it as it is…

September 18, 2010

Oriental Taipan Massage & Spa, Beijing…good but not great

Filed under: Activities, China, Massage, Singapore, spa — Tags: , , , , , — PEr @ 6:05 am

This chain has got 8 branches of reasonably priced spa offering a seemingly endless range of massage and beauty treatments. The entrance to the spa is bright with a warm ambience. The massage rooms are dimly lit paired with the fragrance of essential oils and relaxing music,conducive to unwinding and a little shut eye, and do not feel in the least bit dodgy.

At the end of it all, I clumsily rolled off the bed and gathered my things before reluctantly re-entering the real world. After all, all good things must come to an end and sadly, massages are no exception. This is the true truth and I am still saying it as it is…

Forbidden City (Imperial Palace), Beijing…Awesome! Mind-blowing!

Gu Gong, as the Chinese call it. A not-to-be-missed sight in Beijing. With a supposedly huge total of 9999 rooms (because only heaven could have 10,000 rooms) it was the Imperial residence to the 24 emperors who ruled during the Ming and Qing dynasties; it IS the largest palace in the world. This is the most vivid reminder of China’s Imperial past.

Completed in 1422, this grandiose maze of courtyards and ceremonial halls surrounded by towering walls is designed to make you feel tiny. And it does. It was very very exciting to think what actually went on around there in in ancient times! Here the emperors lived in surroundings of ultimate opulence and luxury, surrounded by hundreds of concubines and the eunuchs who acted as the emperors’ attendants. During those times, common Chinese were not allowed to enter the city, so they now do so by the millions!

A sad note: the staff in the souvenir shops looked so bored and uninterested that you think their goldfish had died.

Here’s a tip: wear comfortable shoes and go slow. The scale of the grounds is overwhelming. Get one of the GPS-based audio tours (available in many languages) and cost 40 yuan to rent. (with a RMB100 refundable deposit). Go there to savour the history and admire the architecture and remember it for what it was- it was fantastic and still is! This is the true truth because I always say it as it is…

September 15, 2010

Beijing Yansha Outlets, China…factory outlet equivalent with real (not fakes) branded stuff

This bargain mall is made up of three complexes. Building C has a number of outlet stores selling Branded stuff on the ground floor. Names like Kent & Curwen, Hugo Boss, Timberland, Kenzo, Tommy Hilfiger, Dunhill, Nine West….you get the point. Upon checking and reconfirming with the locals and those in the know, I have been assured that these are the real things…not fakes. I don’t recognise a single brand on the second floor while the third floor seems to have some restaurants and a small electronics section (Apple, etc..).

Buildings A and B are for those willing to brave the overwhelming selection. Both resemble big department stores; there are no individual outlets here, just divisions marked by shop signage. Building A has an impressive selection of sunglasses on the ground floor. The sporting goods on the second floor features a Nike Factory Outlet Store and selections from brands such as Puma, Adidas and Columbia.

I was told by the locals that this mall was very popular when it first opened but its popularity has since dwindled. Having been there personally, I can understand why. Though it’s understandable that most of these bargain malls carry fashion of a few seasons ago, it’s either you can’t find the size you want or the prices are not really low. But if you look hard enough, you will find some bargains that is a steal. That’s the true truth as I say it as it is…

September 14, 2010

My Humble House, Singapore…food like works of art, if you can overlook the uninspired service

The interior décor was trendy, chic and slick. The ambience there is really very stylish, classy and unique. There is a vast amount of space between tables, and the background music complements the experience without becoming a distraction. Equally entertaining is the menu with its florid descriptions and names.

The food is delicious, quite creative and beautifully plated. All the food comes packaged like a work of art. It’s a feast for the eyes and the palates. I love their coconut seafood soup which was served in a coconut shell. It could have been a lot nicer if it was served hot. The fish maw and shark cartilage soup was excellent. Fresh with the memories of having the delightful Peking duck at Da Dong and Made in China (both renowned restaurants in Beijing), I found Humble House’s rendition, though very nice, unfortunately, was served up cold and it didn’t help that the skin wasn’t the least bit crispy. The cod and pork ribs were amazingly good. Both the tofu with crab meat and tofu in superior broth were not up to their expected standard. The texture of the tofu was disappointing and it would have tasted a lot nicer if they were more flavourful.

If there are faults, Shirley – the Bar Manager – who is temporary in charge of the establishment since the resignation of the restaurant manager, is a pure misfit. She was very distant, unfriendly and cold. She would have fitted in very well in a construction site or a mortuary, but certainly not in the service industry.

Overall service was shockingly lazy and uninspired. There seems to be only one service staff – Maria – who was interested in working and caring for the diners. One service staff was so engrossed setting up a table at 9pm for a next-day booking that she was totally oblivious to the fact that there were guests at 3 tables around her requiring service. It took forever for the bill to arrive. One family of three from another table gave up waiting for it and walked to settle their bill at the cashier. This is the true truth, as I always say it as it is…

September 12, 2010

Jaan, Singapore…an exquisite dining experience

Jaan is an exquisite dining experience – a sensual and elegant culinary experience. There’s that amazing postcard-perfect view.

It’s difficult to live up to a setting this chic, but Jaan manages to do just that, serving modern cuisine with finesse. Each dish was delicately presented, a picture of perfect harmony. I was pleasantly surprised by the combination of flavours. The dishes were far from ordinary, and were perfect examples of the restaurant’s unique culinary offerings. The lamb slices in particular were tender, succulent and delicately meaty. The pre-desserts, desserts and after-desserts were a fittingly fun end to a meal infused with art, whimsy and clear mastery of textures, portions and flavors. The fab food even upstaged the stunning skyline view.

The service is excellent, attentive and gracious. All the staff members we encountered were extremely considerate and genuine and the service all around was top notch. Ken, for example is a knowledgeable waiter ready to cater to any whim.

After all that’s being said, my first visit to Jaan was an enjoyable one; the service was great and the food was excellent. Nothing more need be said. That’s the true truth and I am still saying it as it is…

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